Classical Music

Music In The Making: En Français, S’il Vous Plaît!

An hour of French music in celebration of upcoming Bastille Day. Vive la France!


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On this week’s episode of Music in the Making, we’ll be heading to Paris for a brief sojourn, with music by Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Ravel.

Tournée du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis
1986 poster advertising a tour of Le Chat Noir’s cabaret entertainers.

Erik Satie — Gymnopedie No. 1
Pascal Rogé
International Piano Festival
Moores Opera House

During the time he composed the Gymnopedies, Erik Satie frequented the Chat Noir, a Parisian cabaret, even working as a pianist there. Though always an eccentric man, it was during this time that he adopted the affectations of the Bohemians frequently found in Montmontre, ridding himself of his previous wardrobe and instead sporting a top hat, large Windsor tie, and a frock coat. The Chat Noir did not only inspire Satie sartorially, though; it also proved to stimulate him musically. The Gymnopedies are at once static in their harmonies, dance-like in their meter, and atmospheric in effect, and entirely, uniquely Erik Satie’s.

Francis Poulenc — Sextet for Piano and Winds
Peggy Romeo, flute; Robin Hough, oboe; Jeffrey Lerner, clarinet; Nancy Goodearl, French horn; Jeffrey Robinson, bassoon; Timothy Hester, piano
Moores Opera House

In some aspects, Francis Poulenc can be seen as a successor to Erik Satie. Certainly, the group of composers known as Les Six, consisting of Poulenc, Honneger, Tailleferre, Auric, and Milhaud, was affected by Satie’s irreverence and humor. In his adoption of neoclassicism, with its emphasis on clarity and emotional restraint, Poulenc also pays tribute to Igor Stravinsky, who moved to Paris in 1920. Both of these influences appear in Poulenc’s Sextet for Piano and Winds, which the composer described as “an homage to the wind instruments which I have loved from the moment I began composing.”

Maurice Ravel at the Piano (1912)
Maurice Ravel at the Piano (1912)

Maurice Ravel — Piano Trio
Boson Mo, violin; Desmond Hoebig, cello; Andrew Staupe, piano
Duncan Recital Hall

“I am working — yes, working with the sureness and lucidity of a madman,” wrote Maurice Ravel while composing his Piano Trio, as he hurried to attempt to enlist in World War I. Though composed in feverish haste, the music itself does not feel rushed, with sweeping melodies and irregular rhythms eluding one’s typical sense of meter. In the first movement, listen for the exotic influences of Basque dances. The second, titled “Pantoum,” is characterized by contrasting but interwoven themes, based on the eponymous poetic form. The third, a passacaglia, exhibits careful contrapuntal writing, while the final movement is brilliant and virtuosic, crescendoing to a dazzling conclusion.

This episode originally aired Sunday, July 10th, 2016. Catch Music in the Making every Sunday at 7:06 PM on Classical